Oliver Twist – A loving, innocent orphan child; the son of Edwin Leeford and Agnes Fleming. He is generally quiet and shy rather than aggressive. Oliver’s affectionate nature, along with his weakness and innocence, earn him the pity and love of the good people he meets.
Dicken’s choice of Oliver’s name is very revealing because the boy’s story is full of “twists” and turns. Dickens uses his skills at creating a character to make Oliver particularly appealing.
Mr. Bumble – The parish beadle; a rat man and a choleric with a great idea of his oratorical powers and his importance. He has a decided propensity for bullying.
He derived no inconsiderable pressure from the exercise of petty cruelty and consequently was a coward. Halfway through the book, Bumble changes. When he marries Mrs. Corney, he loses authority. She makes all the decisions.
The Artful Dodger – A talented pickpocket, recruiter, cheat, and wit. Jack Dawkins, known as the artful dodger, is a charming rogue. Fagin’s most esteemed pupil. A dirty snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy (short for his age). Dickens makes Dodger look more appealing by describing his outrageous clothes and uninhibited manners.
Fagin – A master criminal, whose specialty is fencing (selling stolen property). He employs a gang of thieves and is always looking for new recruits. He is a man of considerable intelligence, though corrupted by his self-interest.
His conscience bothers him after he is condemned to hang. He does have a wry sense of humor and an uncanny ability to understand people. He’s a very old shriveled Jew, whose villainous-looking repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair.
Mr. Brownlow – A generous man, concerned for other people. A very respectable-looking person with a ‘heart large enough for any six ordinary old gentlemen of humane’ disposition.
Bill Sikes – A bully, a robber, and a murderer. He is an ally of Fagin. Fagin plans the crimes and Sikes carries them out. Sike’s evil is so frightening because it is so physical. He is compared to a beast. A stoutly built fellow with legs that always look like they are in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to garnish them.
Monks – Also known as Edward Leeford (son of Edwin Leeford and his legal wife). Oliver’s half-brother. He wants to destroy Oliver’s chance of inheriting their father’s estate. Monks is a stock villain, lurking in shadows and uttering curses with a sneer. He lacks family love and a moral upbringing. He is a tall, dark blackguard, subject to fits of cowardice and epilepsy.
Nancy – She is the hapless product of the slums, the pupil of Fagin, and the abused mistress of Sikes. Although she is a prostitute and an accomplice of crooks, she has the instincts of a good person.
She is part of a few of the most memorable scenes (when she visits Fagin’s Den, when she waits for Bill to come home or when she meets with Rose Maylie and Brownlow to help save Oliver). She is untidy and free in manner, but there was something of the woman’s original nature left in her still.
Rose Maylie – On the surface, Rose is very different from Nancy. Both were orphans, but Rose grew up secure and protected. She is compassionate to Oliver, but unlike Nancy, rose is innocent of the evils of the world. Dickens makes clear that she is a pure flower. Agnes Flemings younger sister, thus Oliver’s aunt. Accepted as Mrs. Maylie’s niece: later becomes her daughter-in-law.
Sally Thingummy – A pauper, nurses Oliver’s mother. She steals the locket and ring that holds the key to the oprhans identity.
Agnes Flemming – Oliver’s mother; daughter of a retired naval officer. She left home in shame and died when her illegitimate son was born.
Mr. Sowerberry – An undertaker; He accepts Oliver as an apprentice mourner. He is forced by his wife’s cruelty to abuse the boy until Oliver runs away.
Noah Claypolea – Charity boy. He torments Oliver. He is employed by Fagin, under the alias of Bolter, and spies on Nancy. He ends up as a police informer.
Charley Bates – He belongs to Fagin’s gang. He is so disgusted by Sike’s evil ways that he gives up crime and becomes a farmer.
Bet – Her full name is Betsy. She is required to identify Nancy’s corpse.
Fang – A police magistrate and represents the worst abuses of judicial power. A lean long-backed, stiff-necked, middle-sized man, with no great quantity of hair.
Mrs. Bedwin – She is Brownlow’s housekeeper. She cares for Oliver and provides his first real mothering, when Brownlow rescues him from Fang.
Mr. Grimwig – He is Brownlow’s friend. He has a tender heart under his gruff exterior and joins the effort to secure Oliver’s inheritance after initially doubting the boy.
Toby Crackit – A house breaker who works with Sikes.
Mrs. Corney (later Mrs. Bumble) – She runs the workhouse where Oliver was born. A greedy person, she retrieves Agnes Flemings treasures from Old Sally and sells them to Monks.
Dr. Losberne – The Maylies’s physician. He is part of the group that ensures Oliver’s future. He has grown fat, more from good humor than from good living.
Henry (Harry) Maylie – He loves Rose and wants to marry her, but she refuses because she believes she is illegitimate and therefore might hurt his chances to win elections. To win Rose, Henry gives ups a political career and becomes a clergyman.
The major action of Oliver Twist moves back and forth between two worlds: The filthy slums of London and the clean, comfortable house of Brownlow and the Maylies. The first world is real and frightening. While the other is idealized, almost dreamlike, in its safety and beauty. The world of London is a world of crime.
Things happen there at night, in dark alleys and in abandoned, dark buildings. You can find examples of this (in the book) in Chapter XV, when Oliver is kidnapped and then again in Chapter XXVI, when Fagin meets Monks. Such darkness suggests that evil dominates this world. Dickens often uses weather conditions to aid in setting a scene.
In Oliver Twist, bad things happen in bad weather. In contrast to Fagin’s London, the sunlit days and fragrant flowers of the Maylies cottage or the handsome library at Brownlow’s teem with goodness and health.
Dickens uses lots of symbolism in this book. One use is the allusion to obesity, which is an inverse way, symbolizes hunger by calling attention to its absence. It is interesting to observe the large number of characters who are corpulent. Those who may be considered prosperous enough to be reasonably well fed pose a symbolic contrast to poverty and undernourishment.
For example, the parish board is made up of “eight or ten fat gentlemen”; the workhouse master is a “fat, healthy man”; Bumble is a “portly person”; Giles is fat and Brittles “by no means of a slim figure”; Mr. Losberne is “a fat gentleman”; and one of the Bow-street runners is “a portly man”. Other uses are how evil people are described as dangerous animals or as typical stage villains. The weather is usually cold and rainy when bad things happen.
Audience and Diction
Most of the language may seem stilted and artificial because there are long, winding sentences full of colons, semicolons, and parentheses. Dicken’s language can also be very sentimental. For example; the love scenes between Rose and Henry or the description of Oliver at the beginning of Chapter XXX. t
Though Dickens was trying to describe the world realistically, the language doesn’t always show how people in the slums talked. Not even Sikes uses four-letter words. Explicit sexual scenes are left out too. Dickens wanted Oliver Twist to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and he didn’t want to offend his readers.
On the other hand, Dickens uses some street slang, especially the slang of thieves, which adds a distinct flavor to the story. For example; look at the way the Artful Dodger talks and the way Oliver Twist talks. Oliver isn’t hard to understand.